ISLAMABAD: The federal cabinet on Tuesday banned exports of all edible items to ensure adequate food supply to the local market during the countrywide lockdown due to coronavirus and gave additional three weeks to an inquiry commission conducting the forensic audit of recent sugar and wheat scams.
A meeting of the cabinet presided over by Prime Minister Imran Khan also stopped export of anti-malaria drug called chloroquine till its approval by the health ministry.
“In order to ensure sufficient food supplies during the lockdown, the prime minister was of the view that export of essential consumer items should be banned till normality in the coronavirus situation,” newly appointed Information Minister Shibli Faraz told Dawn when contacted after the meeting.
No routine press briefing was held to inform the media about the decisions taken by the cabinet; rather an official press release was issued about the meeting.
The minister said that exports of edible items had been banned, but the Afghan transit trade would continue. He did not mention whether edible items are on the list about trade with Afghanistan.
Gives inquiry commission another three weeks to finalise forensic report on sugar and wheat scams
It is worth mentioning that the initial inquiry report on the recent sugar and wheat crises revealed that an ample quantity of wheat and sugar had been sent to Afghanistan that caused the shortage of both essential items and increase in their prices in the country.
Keeping in view the request by the inquiry commission and hurdles coming in its way, the meeting decided to give it another three weeks to complete the forensic audit of all sugar and wheat flour mills as well as the departments concerned and present its report to the cabinet.
The commission was to submit its report on April 25.
The federal cabinet had on April 4 made public the initial inquiry report on sugar and wheat crises unveiling the names of ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf stalwarts and leaders of allied parties, including Jehangir Tareen, Minister for Food Khusro Bakhtiar and Monis Elahi of the PML-Q, and their relatives involved in the scams.
Later, Prime Minister Khan ordered forensic audit to expose each and every aspect of the scams and April 25 was the deadline for releasing the audit report. However, the inquiry commission sought additional three weeks to finalise the report.
Mr Faraz said the cabinet stopped the export of chloroquine promised by the prime minister to some friendly states and added that export firms would have to obtain an NOC from the health ministry in this regard. “The cabinet approved modalities for export of chloroquine by those in possession of raw material,” he said.
The cabinet also approved a special relief package of Rs75 billion announced on Monday for labourers and daily wage earners affected by the lockdown. Approving the Rs75bn relief package, in the first phase for labourers, the prime minister directed his special assistant on social welfare and the minister for industries to devise a comprehensive mechanism in this regard, the press release said.
The cabinet ratified decisions taken the Economic Coordination Committee in its meetings held on April 22 and 27. It also ratified the recommendations made by the CCLC (Cabinet Committee on Legislative Cases) in its meeting held on April 27.
Adviser to the Prime Minister on Finance Dr Hafeez Shaikh briefed the cabinet on the progress made in regulating the affairs of the Competition Commission of Pakistan. The cabinet approved appointment of Shaista Bano Gillani as acting chairperson of the commission.
The meeting approved, in principle, the “Netting of Financial Contracts Bill, 2020” to remove any uncertainty in enforcing the netting rights in case of a termination event, bankruptcy, insolvency proceedings, limits the power of the liquidators to prevent any cherry-picking of qualified financial contracts/transactions, which fall under the ambit of netting provisions and allow financial collateral arrangements under such netting rights. Once the law is enforced the qualified financial contracts will always be settled on the basis of “netting” in the presence of the netting arrangement.
The cabinet approved a proposal to notify that all companies supplying electricity or gas through distribution or transmission line would be members of a credit bureau and would furnish information in accordance with the Credit Bureau Act, 2015.
The cabinet, while approving the allocation of grant-in-aid from the federal government for journalists and their bodies, especially press clubs, tasked the minister for information and special assistant on information with finalising procedure/SOPs for disbursement of the grant among the deserving journalists and their bodies.
The meeting approved restructuring of the board of directors of Pak-Arab Refinery Limited (Parco). The names of Aftab Hussain (Sindh), Abdul Hadi Shah (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) and Bushra Naz Malik (Punjab/women representative) were approved as members on the Parco board.
The meeting approved the nomination of director against the casual vacancies of the board of directors of Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Limited, Pakistan Petroleum Limited, Pakistan Mineral Development Corporation and Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority.
The cabinet approved an assistance package for healthcare workers dealing with coronavirus. Any healthcare worker, who dies while performing duties related to Covid-19, shall be entitled to the same package as is applicable to the government servants in cases of security-related deaths contained in the Shuhada package. The package will be applicable in the domain of ICT, AJK and Gilgit-Baltistan.
Speaking on the occasion, Prime Minister Khan said the government had planned to offer government land located in major cities to overseas Pakistanis to generate much-needed financial resources. He directed all the ministries to expedite setting up of think tanks of experts and professionals at the ministries in order to bring about a qualitative improvement in the overall performance and output of the ministries.
Special Assistant to the PM on Health Dr Zafar Mirza briefed the cabinet on the latest Covid-19 situation in the country.
In a separate meeting, the prime minister approved “Green Stimulus” package as part of the government’s efforts to extend green cover in the county and create job opportunities for the youth, especially in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis. The package is part of the 10 Billion Tree Tsunami project aimed at promoting plantation, setting up nurseries and natural forests, as well as honey, fruit and olive plantation in the country.
Under the package, a “Green Nigehbaan” initiative would also be launched to initially provide job opportunities to 65,000 youths/daily wage earners, making them part of the plantation campaign.
The prime minister said that addressing climatic issues and enhancing green cover of the country were among the foremost priorities of the present government. He said the Green Stimulus package, especially the Green Nigehbaan initiative, would offer employment opportunities to the youth and help in promoting the objectives of clean and green Pakistan. He directed that all stakeholders, including provincial governments and international bodies, be engaged in enhancing the scope of the programme and creating additional jobs.
The prime minister directed the Ministry of Climate Change to prepare a plan of action for engaging the international community under the “Debt for Nature Swap” programme to convert part of country’s debt into grant for greater plantation and environment protection activities.
Published in Dawn, April 29th, 2020